Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Learning to fly

Tuesdays at TWT!
In The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams wrote that learning to fly consists of "learning to throw yourself at the ground and miss".

Watching my 14-month old lately, I realized that learning to walk is pretty much the same thing. She took a few of those first tottering steps this weekend, in the midst of a hundred hilarious kerplunks, tumbles and flops. And every time she fell, she giggled, squealed, chortled, and clambered back up to try again.

Getting there!
Splat! (with a big smile!)
So while pondering how to make this post more than a series of cute baby pictures, I remembered an article I saw recently (which alas, I did not save, and now cannot find) about how the role of persistence is often undervalued in creative pursuits. And how I immediately thought of writing, and the sheer persistence that is required to be a writer.

I remembered so many Tuesdays and March days where I've had to absolutely drag myself to the couch, pry my laptop open, and make myself write. Throwing myself at the ground, over and over, whether I have a huge spark of a story that begs to be written, or a tiny hiding inkling of a maybe-idea, or no ideas at all.

However I start, the important thing is that I started. Something always comes out. Something great comes out! In that repeated persistence, I end up with stories that might not have been told, craft moves I might never have tried, conclusions and revelations I might never have arrived at, and connections I might never have made. Only in repeatedly throwing myself down do I learn to miss the ground: to conquer my fears, rise above the minutiae of being "too busy", vanquish tiredness, and dispel the myth of having "nothing to write about".

I've always loved how Thomas Mann said that "A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people." I pour so much of myself into my writing. I agonize over words and phrases, play with hooks and conclusions, spin and weave the pieces of a story until they fit just write. I purposefully use strategies I've learned over time. It's hard work, not some magical cloud of golden inspiration.

I don't want my students to look at me and just see "a good writer". It's so easy to look at "talent" and think "That's not me. I can't do that!" Right? We all have our myths we've created: I'm not a good artist, I'm not athletic, I just can't do whatever like so-and-so does.

Soon, my baby will be walking everywhere without giving it a second thought. But other babies won't look at her and say, "oh, that kid's just a good walker. I can't do that." No! They, too, will someday fling themselves at the ground enough times to eventually learn to miss, and then off they'll go, walking everywhere too!

I work hard to make sure my students see me as someone who works really hard to make herself write, to learn about good writing, and to try different strategies to make her writing better. That's why I write in front of them, and that's why I share my writing life with them.

In fact, that's why I share my life with them: so they can see that success is not luck or some magical fairy dust, but rather the result of habitual, intentional tenacity over time. Writers write. Readers read. "Good students" study with purpose and intensity. Success comes from being strong, and being strong comes from being brave enough to keep throwing ourselves down, over and over, until we miss the ground and just take right off.


  1. This was part of the reason I could not blog this past year; priorities had to be set, and my students scored higher on the list. I had to write with them. So many new students last year! This sentence really says it all: "That's why I write in front of them, and that's why I share my writing life with them." AND so wonderful to see your baby so big now!!

  2. It's a beautiful post, Jennifer, worth sharing with many teachers, about that persistence shared, and how wonderfully connected to the Adams' quote about learning to fly, then watching your new walker. Oh wow, what a change you're going to have around the house! As Charlotte would say, you are "some teacher".

  3. Jennifer, this is such a brilliant reminder to all of us of the importance of being teachers who write with their students.

  4. I absolutely love your extended analogy in this post. And I love your imagery regarding its relation to our little sweetheart.


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